Grievance hearing against Sheriff Turner under way

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WALLA WALLA — The Walla Walla Commissioned Deputies Association and Walla Walla County Sheriff John Turner faced off Monday morning in a grievance hearing involving Sgt. Bill White.

According to White’s attorney, Jamie Goldberg, the association filed the grievance to challenge whether Turner had just cause to discipline White last year following a lengthy investigation.

Turner initiated the investigation into White in May 2012 on allegations of misconduct ranging from insubordination to failure to supervise.

Turner placed White on administrative leave and Benton County Sheriff’s detectives conducted the investigation that concluded in August 2012. In a letter following the investigation, Undersheriff Edward Freyer recommended that White be terminated from employment.

White, who was Turner’s opponent in the 2010 sheriff’s election, was not fired but faced possible demotion and suspension.

Rather than impose a 120-hour suspension without pay and demotion from sergeant to deputy, Turner suspended the demotion and half the unpaid suspension, on the condition that White finish a performance improvement plan.

The association’s stance on the investigation was clear well before Turner’s final decision, however. Months earlier Turner received a letter protesting White being placed on administrative leave.

“The Association is outraged and strongly condemns the treatment of Sergeant Bill White,” wrote Goldberg in a June letter that said the “protracted period of separation is baseless and without merit.”

White then declined to appear at a Loudermill hearing, part of due process rights for government employees prior to severe discipline.

“There is no benefit for an employee to attend a Loudermill meeting when an employer is not seeking fairness but instead attempting to justify a wrongful course of action.” Goldberg wrote on behalf of White.

Following Turner’s decision discipline White, Goldberg began the grievance process, which culminated in this week’s hearing.

The hearing was closed to the public and a reporter for the Union-Bulletin was told to leave by Kathryn Whalen, an arbitrator selected by both sides.

Turner’s attorney, Michael Bolasina, asked Whalen to close the meeting.

Goldberg objected.

“We’re in the public sphere here,” Goldberg argued, stating Turner used the press to publicly humiliate White during the original investigation. “We see this arbitration as a way to set the record straight.”

During lunch recess, Bolasina also declined to comment on the proceedings.

Goldberg, however, said he thought the hearing was going well, and said there were “several unexplainable” contradictions in testimony from witnesses for the county.

This morning the county was scheduled to present testimony from its last witness, and then association witnesses were scheduled to close out the day. Goldberg said he thought the hearing will conclude around 4 p.m. Then both attorney’s will submit their closing arguments to Whalen in writing at a later time.

Whalen said it could take several months for a final decision.

Luke Hegdal can be reached at lukehegdal@wwub.com or 526-8326.

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